It's hard to understand why Torrontés isn't a front-runner among white wines. It's good with so much that we like to eat--spicy Thai food, Indian curries and seafood dishes such as ceviche and sashimi, for starters.
Yet Torrontés is a hard sell, says Michael J. Barlett of Blends, who represented one of only three poured at Wine LA's "Tasting South America" at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills (above)."There is not a lot of demand. We don't sell a lot of it. People like it, but we can't get anybody to buy it," he said.
Bartlett poured the 2014 Torrontés from Tomero in the Uco Valley in Mendoza (at the right in the photo). Fermented 100% in stainless steel, it offered lovely fresh fruit flavors. The winery also exhibited a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Even more of a hard sell is the white wine Albariño. People just don't know the grape, said Bartlett (above) as he poured the 2014 Albariño from Bodega Garzón in Uruguay. There, Albariño is a premier grape, and this wine, with its pleasing minerality, is a very good example.
The most typical Urguayan red wine is Tannat, and the 2013 from Garzón is peppery, spicy and excellent with hearty meats and sauces. Garzón ferments its Tannats in stainless steel or unlined concrete and ages them 12 to 15 months in new French oak. The good news is that both of these Uruguayan wines are available here (BevMo, Whole Foods).
The only Uruguayan winery at the tasting, Bodega Garzón is a working farm that produces olive oil and other crops. The vineyards enjoy pleasant ocean breezes, as they are only 11 miles from the Atlantic.
I also tasted a Tannat from Vinícola Perini, a Brazilian winery. Founded by Italian immigrants, it has vineyards in Farroupilha, where the Tannat was produced, and Garibaldi.
The Macaw Tannat 2012, from Valle Trentino in Farroupilha, is very different from the Uruguayan Tannat, deeply colored but lighter, with an impression of sweetness. It would make a very good sangria.
The Perini wines, which include a sparking Moscato and a Merlot poured at the tasting, arrived in the United States about four weeks ago and have acquired representation here.
Other wines I liked--I tasted only 20 out of more than 70--included a Chilean Carmenere, the 2012 Gran Reserva from Carmen winery. Bright and fresh, the wine blends 94% Carmenere with Carignan and Tempranillo.
Viña Cremaschi Furlotti, from Chile, produced the only Nebbiolo poured at the tasting. Its 2011 limited edition Nebiollo exhibited good acidity and good fruit.
I liked everything I tasted from Susana Balbo in Argentina (above). The barrel-fermented Signature Torrontés 2014 was excellent, a wine with character. The 2010 Nosotros Malbec, from Agrelo, was gorgeous. The BenMarco Expresivo 2013, a mostly Malbec blend, was rich and exciting, as was the 2012 Brioso, composed of half Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
My last stop was at a table of wines without representation. This is sure to change, judging by the two poured by Valsecchi Wines from the Calchaqui Valley in Salta province in northwestern Argentina. Salta is known for white wines--it's the center of Torrontés--but these were reds, both of them powerful and memorable.
One was the 2008 Altoandino, a blend of 55% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Tannat, aged 22 months in new oak. The other was the 2007 Desafío, which is 95% Malbec and 5% Tannat. Valsecchi's 2008 Ukumar Tannat, from high altitude vines, didn't make it to the tasting.
Valsecchi is a young winery. Its first vintage was the 2004 Desafío. The first Altoandino was 2007. Production is limited, from a high of 600 cases annually of the Altoandino blend to 350 cases of Desafio and only 100 a year of Ukumar Tannat. Such notable wines are not cheap. The retail price for the Altoandino is $65, the table rep said, not excessive for something that good.